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Lead Your Team Leadership

Human Relations Movement: How It Changed Management

Human Relations Movement: How It Changed Management
Credit: Shutterstock/Rawpixel

The first management theory, Frederick Taylor's scientific management theory, dates back to 1880. From there, many others were born, like Max Weber's bureaucratic theory and Mary Parker Follett's theory of organizational management. Among the countless theorists and theories, the human relations movement was born. It represents a crucial shift in management that encouraged a more personal type of management. Here are the basics of the movement, and how it affected today's style of management.

The human relations movement was born from the Hawthorne studies, which were conducted by Elton Mayo and Fritz Roethlisberger from 1927 to 1932. Originally, the studies focused on how physical conditions like lighting affect workers' productivity, but the studies actually found that one of the biggest influencers was being observed by others.

In other words, relationships between workers and management affect employee efficiency. If a worker is being analyzed by their boss, they will be more motivated to do well because they're being singled out, a phenomenon known as the Hawthorne effect.

Being part of a group, and having a specific responsibility in said group, also increased employee incentive. Workers want to feel that their personal goals align with their team's overall goals, and that their work is valuable.

Management professor Douglas McGregor later created Theory X and Theory Y, opposing perceptions of employee motivation. His book, "The Human Side of Enterprise" (1960), breaks down the theories as such:

  1. Management is responsible for organizing company components in the interest of economic ends.
  2. Managers should direct workers' efforts, motivate them, control their actions and modify their behavior to suit organizational needs.
  3. Managers must persuade, reward, punish and control workers to stop passiveness and resistance.
  1. Management is responsible for organizing company components in the interest of economic ends.
  2. Passiveness or resistance to organizational needs develop with experience in organizations.
  3. Motivation, potential for development, capacity for assuming responsibility, and readiness to direct behavior toward organizational goals are naturally instilled in people.
  4. Above all, management should focus on creating a system where workers can achieve their own goals in line with company objectives.

Theory Y shared similarities with the human relations movement, noting that workers can be trusted and are naturally motivated and efficient. However, American psychologist Abraham Maslow had developed a theory of hierarchical needs, which McGregor referred to in his book, to indicate employee incentives to perform well. From lowest to highest in the hierarchy, those are physiological needs, safety needs, social needs, ego needs and self-fulfillment needs.

The two theories were important additions to management studies, and the human relations movement progressed by aligning individual needs with organizational needs.

The human relations movement was a crucial event in management history and a major contribution to today's style of leading. The behavioral sciences helped managers and theorists understand how to increase productivity by ditching the primary focus on organizations over their workers. Contemporary theories, like the contingency theory and systems theory, focus more on the importance and effect of every individual in a company – and how they can achieve their own goals while benefiting their organization.

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't working as a Purch B2B staff writer, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. The only time Sammi doesn't play it safe is when she's writing. Reach her by email, or check out her blog at sammisays.org.